Anticipation worthy of a birthday party. That’s what your students can feel as they enter your studio for each group lesson or day of piano camp.
This one organizational strategy is so simple, yet so effective, that when I first did it I wondered why I’d never thought of it before.
Gift bags! That’s right, the same kind of gift bags you use for parties, celebrations and prizes (all the things children love). When you put your student’s lesson materials in gift bags and they know little surprises are waiting for them each time they arrive to your group lesson or camp day, the enthusiasm kids normally feel for special occasions is instantly transferred to your lessons. Gift bags can do so much for you as you organize your lesson and carry out your plan.
Whether your group plan includes multiple keyboards or you’re teaching group theory or music history, gift bags will add the elements of surprise and fun. Keep reading to learn how you can use gift bags to get organized and add fun to every lesson.
One bag per student
Each student gets their own special bag. It’s like their home base from lesson to lesson. In the first lesson I set the colourful, bright bags out and allow my students to choose their own. Each bag is different, like each child, and usually reflects who they are. You could buy new bags or simply use ones you’ve collected over the years. This doesn’t need to cost you any money.
As you create your lesson plan, tuck some things into the gift bags. Here are some ideas:
Surprise them with fun pencils and erasers.
I keep on hand a number of seasonally-themed pencils and erasers. My students are always delighted to discover that their freshly-sharpened pencils have a fun design: chicks and eggs for the lessons leading up to Easter, or pumpkin grinners before Halloween. Erasers come in all shapes and sizes, too, and it’s exciting to find out what their own eraser is going to be.
There’s a practical side to this organizational strategy. Providing sharpened pencils and working erasers ensures that students have quality writing tools. The fact that the pencils and erasers are cute and colourful makes the work seem less like work and more like fun.
The students leave the contents in the bags at the conclusion of each group lesson. Then, sometimes when I feel a change of season coming on, I’ll switch out what we’ve been using for something new. The moment is priceless when the students find some new treasure: they oooh and aaah and show each other what theirs looks like. You may think this would be distracting, but the excitement is usually contained within the first few minutes. The fact that the surprise has made the student feel special lasts the whole class.
Tuck in this lesson’s sticker
My students get an attendance sticker each time they come. We stick it on the front cover of their theory books. Their books look so happy!
Tuck in printed worksheets
Instead of handing out student worksheets during the lesson, which can take time, I distribute the worksheets prior to the lesson by tucking them into the gift bags. As students gather they see in their bags some of the things we’ll be doing, like an overview. This helps them begin to focus. Moreover, the idea that the worksheet is a surprise makes the things they are learning seem like discoveries. Discoveries are fun.
Some of the worksheets I use are on my blog’s Printables page. I’ll be adding more. (Isn’t it fun when you discover a new free printable online? It’s that much fun when your students find the worksheets, too!)
Tuck in this lesson’s craft supplies
I will often plan little educational crafts for my students. I will likely blog about them in the future. These are not fancy crafts, but are teaching aids. Rather than print professionally-designed, ready-made items for my students, I let them make their own. Their printing can look a bit child-like and the spacing isn’t perfect, but I feel the act of creating the teaching cards, themselves, is an invaluable step for them while learning the concept. It helps them take ownership of what they are learning.
The moment they find pieces of construction paper and markers and scissors in their bags, they know they’ll be learning something new, and it feels exciting. There’s the element of anticipation to learn more.
Tuck in blank flash cards
Learning is a collaborative process in my group lessons. The children are active in choosing what they need to know more about. If we come across a new word, symbol, or idea, they’ve learned to identify that it’s new (and I’ve learned to hold back to give them a chance to notice it rather than telling them), and we stop and take a moment for them to create a new flash card.
In their gift bag they’ll find blank white cards cut to the size we use (about 9 cm x 7 cm). On these cards the students will write the term or symbol on the front and then we will all come up with a definition for the back. The definition comes from the learning process, which includes tapping, singing, playing the piano, swaying, then sketching the music concept on the white board and looking through our theory books.
These flash cards are more than just tools of memorization, they are a record of what the children have wanted to learn. We keep their flash cards in plastic zip-up sandwich bags and they take them home and practice going over them between group and private lessons.
If you want to teach with this approach, you will want to take the lead at first to show the children how to identify the kinds of words and symbols that can go on the flash cards.
Tuck in game pieces
If I have a game planned, I’ll tuck the pieces in the gift bags before the lesson starts. This is highly motivating. I save games for the last 15 to 30 minutes of the lessons. My students know that if we make good use of our time through the theory, history or ear training that we’ll have lots of time for the game.
Remember the ‘Finished-Unfinished’ game from this post on making your compositions longer? The mysterious pieces of red and blue construction paper were tucked in my students’ gift bags before the lesson. My students discovered them at the beginning of the lesson and found out later they were for a game.
Tuck in rhythm instruments
If I plan to cover a new rhythm or time signature, I’ll tuck little shakers and sticks into the bags. This has worked so far with my students. If you feel it would be too distracting with your students, you could always have a separate set of gift bags ready to go with the rhythm instruments inside and bring them out at the moment you plan to use them.
Give it a try!
Gift bags can help you while you are organizing your lesson, keep the items each student will use during the lesson contained, help the children see what the lesson will entail and while being so practical and helpful, make the lesson feel like lots of fun! It’s win-win. The next time you teach a piano camp or group lesson, try this simple, effective and easy organizational trick!
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